Fostering · Parenting · teenagers


I had a day surgery procedure last month on my arm. It was presented as minor and my understanding was that it would be a local anesthetic but that it would be done in the OR at the hospital for safety, due to my tendency to bleed and bruise.

I went to the hospital still thinking about whether I would watch or not and found myself caught up in the steps preceding surgery. As things rolled along I suddenly realized that they were now talking about general anesthetic! I don’t recall being asked if I was okay with this change… it was just presented in a matter of fact way and things kept moving along.

I had a choice in this moment to get upset… start to worry and obsess about the “what if’s”, have a melt down and stop the process… I chose to relax and trust the medical staff and go with it.

Next thing I knew the anesthesiologist was checking out my airway, I was rolled into the OR, said hi to the staff bustling about, took a few deep breaths from the mask they put on my face… and woke up in recovery.

I am not a nervous person about these kinds of things. I trust that the medical staff are capable and are doing their job. I was able to just relax and go with it. I was happy the procedure was done after being delayed almost a year because of the pandemic. It all worked out well for me.

But there are lots of times a sudden change or something turning out to be totally different than expected can cause major turmoil. I didn’t always cope well with the hospital environment and medical things!

The fact is I don’t like surprises. I like to know what’s going on and be prepared. So when things are changing rapidly I have to consciously choose to be calm and not let myself get upset. It’s called self-soothing. We usually hear the term applied to babies or toddlers. It’s a skill we want them to learn. Picture a blanket and a thumb or soother. They learn to calm their response and return to a happy place.

The ability to recognize your emotional reaction to a situation and intentionally keep yourself calm and interacting with the world around you is a higher level function. We start learning it in small ways when we are children. Like most things, it’s a skill many adults should still be developing… especially when they drive!

Kids in foster care are often victims of sudden change.

  • The caseworker who they’ve just gotten to know, replaced by someone new.
  • The expected visit with a parent that get’s cancelled last minute
  • The anticipated event on the calendar that keeps getting bumped farther and farther out
  • The home they were settling in to that they have to leave suddenly because of a court order
  • The school that changes overnight with no chance to say goodbye to friends

Change is hard. Unexpected change is harder. Those emotions that are triggered have to go somewhere. They often surface in an unexpected place and hijack a person. I’ve been that person. I’ve seen people fall apart at something insignificant… because they didn’t deal with all the previous emotion and now they have no reserves left to deal with the little things.

Many people would be reduced to incoherent tears if the plan in the hospital suddenly changed, or find themselves paralyzed with fear of the unknown. What does self-soothing look like for an adult? Most of us don’t want to suck our thumb, or cuddle in our blanket like a toddler will… or maybe that’s exactly what we want but we can’t do it! I think prayer, self talk or meditation are most adults’ method.

Teens struggle to contain their reactions… I think acting out is often their way of working through emotions. Drinking or smoking is a choice a lot of teens make as they struggle to deal with life. The changes for a teen are constant and confusing. Trying to parent teens is constantly confusing!!

Finding a way to recognize your emotions, validate them and work through them constructively is a lifelong journey.

Do you recognize the signs when your emotions are starting to hijack you?

What do you do to pull yourself together?

I hope whatever it looks like in your life you’re kind to yourself.

Kids in care live in a world where change is always happening and they rarely have a say. They need our understanding and compassion, and a lot of grace. The challenging behaviours we often see or experience probably have their roots in things we can’t see.

Next time you get through a challenging situation without falling apart, pay attention to what you do to get yourself through. You are self-soothing.

In the midst of the mess


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